'Who are you calling Big Ears?': Rabbit Grand National attracts the fluffy best of Britain's bunnies

By Kerry Mcqueeney

Big ears: An English lop-eared rabbit sits patently on the judging table at the event

Groomed and poised for victory, when it comes to showjumping, these bunnies certainly know how to hop to it.

These are the furry competitors of the Rabbit Grand National, which was staged in Harrogate, Yorkshire.

The popular showjumping rabbit race is part of the larger Burgess Premier Small Animal Show, which attracted more than 3,000 contenders.

Measuring up: Judges ensure another competitor's dimensions meet the strict criteria as other bunnies wait their turn

Established in 1921, the event is the longest-running and biggest small animal show in the UK.

It is open to cavies, gerbils, hamsters, mice, rabbits and rats - with some breeders travelling from as far afield as Sweden to compete.

According to the organisers, breeders - also known as fanciers - hold the event in high esteem and, along with their pets, descended on Harrogate in Yorkshire to participate in the 2012 competition this weekend.

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Run, rabbit, run: Flora, a lop-eared rabbit from Sweden, clears the final jump in the Rabbit Grand National

Hop to it: One young bunny practices its jumps on the Rabbit Grand National track (left) while Dilba, a competitor from Sweden, is put through his paces (right)

Tense wait: The competitors do their best to be patient as they prepare to be assessed by the judges

Dressing room: Any contender worth their salt knows the importance of rest and relaxation before a big event

This year saw the biggest and best competition in the show's 90-year history, with hundreds of spectators descending on the Yorkshire Events Centre to catch a glimpse of the four-legged competitors.

The show is dedicated solely to the promotion and exhibition of many species of small animals, organised by a dedicated committee on a not-for-profit basis.

Founded in 1921, it is the oldest event of its kind i

The event originally started life as the Bradford Championship Show and its inception is linked with Fur and Feather magazine, a publication dedicated to rabbits and other small animals.

Two's company: A pair of white rabbits are scrutinised by the judges. The event attracts competitors from as far afield as Sweden

The heat is on: An Angora (left) and English lop eared rabbit (right) wait to hear how they've fared in the contest

Well-groomed: White rabbits look proud and preened as they line up next to each other

Four-legged opponent: One Satin rabbit surveys his furry rivals as judges check the contenders meet the competition's standards

The magazine, which has been running since the 1880s, was owned and published by Bradford-based J.E. Watmough.

Mr Watmough wanted to bring together the specialist cavy, hamster, mouse, rabbit and rat groups under one roof and put on an animal show encompassing all of the different species.

The first show was staged in 1921, at Manningham Barracks in Bradford, and was such a success it went on to become an annual event.

A specialist committee of volunteers was formed in 1929 - called the Bradford Small Livestock Society - which still exists and organises the event to this date.

Happy bunny: A red-eyed white Polish rabbit peers out from between the bars of its cage

Under scrutiny: Antonia Galloway, 7, assists with the judging of this contender (left) while a Satin rabbit is given the once-over by the judges

Fluffy friend: Antonia Galloway with Emeranthus, a four-month-old Angora rabbit who won best fancy in the under fives show

This year the event officially changed its name to the Burgess Premier Small Animal Show, to reflect the show's primary sponsor from 2012 to 2015, Burgess Pet Care.

Other rabbit racing competitions include the European Kanin Hop Championships, the first of which was staged in Switzerland in October last year.

Breeders from a number of countries across Europe brought their showjumping bunnies to compete in the race in Wollerau.

In recent years the sport has spread far from its Scandinavian homeland and clubs have now sprung up in several other European countries, the U.S., Canada and even Japan.

The Swedish Federation of Rabbit Jumping was established in 1995.



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